scallops hotel – poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer)

if you’ve somehow missed out on milo’s output this year, let me give you a quick crash-course.  on new year’s day, the mc released a double-ep called things that happen at day/things that happen at night.  this past july, he dropped cavalcade, an excellent mixtape with exquisite production from riley lake.  the three bodies of work together exhibited an enormous amount of artistic growth over a short period of time, as milo continued to develop his philosophical, spoken word-tinged rhyme delivery over beats that were more interactive and at the forefront of each composition.  i think most people would have been beyond satisfied if he had called it quits for 2013 after cavalcade,  but milo’s prolific tendencies dictated that even more material was necessary.  i can’t really complain about that.

with poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer), milo’s first full-length release for his scallops hotel side project, the young rapper furthers his case for being consider among the year’s best artists.  poplar grove also marks somewhat of a return to milo’s earlier, independent days; although there are smatterings of hellfyre club found throughout the album, his decision to release it through his own personal bandcamp is telling.  the tracks are much more intimate and eclectic than milo’s previous work this year, and they’re largely devoid of hooks.  this return to a more stream-of-consciousness approach is akin to what initially drew me to last year’s milo takes baths, but it’s been juxtaposed by deeper, pitch-shifted vocals and comparatively haunting instrumentals.

when the occasional melody does appear, it’s wonderful.  “bergamot gamut” traces the same melodic figure throughout with milo appropriating his words to its contour, changing the content when need be and slipping in and out of spoken and sung phrases.  the improvement of his singing voice is notable, but what’s even more impressive is milo’s growth as a songwriter, not so much in terms of lyricism as in terms of form and overall structure.  i saw some deviation from his established formula in penobscot expedition, a fan-made b-sides compilation that also surfaced this summer, and it’s nice to see milo continuing down a path to diversify his sound.

poplar grove isn’t milo’s defining album of 2013, and it really shouldn’t be.  this excellent foray under the moniker of a side project allows him to prove that his output will never run the risk of becoming one-dimensional, and probably will help him pay for rent next month, too.  in order to fully understand milo’s musical realm, poplar grove must be inserted into a continuous stream of his entire discography from this year.  once you do that, i hope you’ll understand why milo has become a force to be reckoned with.

8.0/10

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